When a woman walked into a state-funded "crisis pregnancy center" in Manassas, Va., this summer and told the counselor she might be pregnant, she was told that condoms don't actually prevent STDs and that birth control frequently causes hair loss, memory loss, headaches, weight gain, fatal blood clots and breast cancer.
"The first three ingredients in the birth control pill are carcinogens," the CPC counselor said, adding that she always tries to talk women out of taking it.
The counselor also told the woman that condoms are not effective at preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases because they are "naturally porous."
"Safe sex is a joke," she said. "There's no such thing."
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia recorded the exchange, released Wednesday, as part of its undercover investigation into the 58 state-funded "crisis pregnancy centers" in Virginia. The organizations are part of a national network of about 2,500 Christian centers that advertise health and pregnancy services, but do not offer abortions, contraception or prenatal care. Instead, they are intended to talk women out of having abortions and to advocate abstinence until marriage.
These organizations receive state money through the sale of "Choose Life" license plates at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's Republican gubernatorial candidate, sponsored the legislation that established that fundraising system during his time in the state senate.
NARAL sent undercover women into several crisis pregnancy centers throughout Virginia and recorded their interactions. The investigation revealed that 71 percent of the CPCs in Virginia give out medically inaccurate information about the health consequences and effectiveness of birth control, condoms and abortion.
According to the report, in addition to criticizing the use of birth control and condoms, 40 of the CPCs told women that abortion causes long-term psychological damage and leads women to develop eating disorders and drug addictions. One counselor allegedly told NARAL's undercover investigator that if she was a certain blood type, the abortion could cause her body to create antibodies that would attack her fetus the next time she tried to get pregnant.
Dolores Wisecarver, director of A Woman's Choice in Falls Church, Va., one of the locations named by NARAL in its report, refuted the findings. Wisecarver said staff always explain to women that they are not a medical office and direct them to make an appointment at a doctor's office, adding that they even pay for women's doctor's visits.
"We do promote chastity in women that are not married, and natural family planning," she said. "The reason we promote that is that not because the pope says it's a bad thing. We feel that a woman's fertility is a normal thing -- you have to take meds when you're sick, not when you're healthy, and all medication has side effects. I took birth control for years didn't know how sick it was making me until I stopped."
Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, called the recordings shocking.
"This shocking audio exposes Virginia CPCs for what they are: anti-choice field offices designed to mislead, shame, and lie to women during one of the most vulnerable times of their lives," Keene said. "Regardless of your stance on abortion, we can all agree that anyone seeking health care services and advice should receive comprehensive, non-judgmental, and factually accurate information."